The big game hunting season will soon be upon us. Bow hunters, muzzle-loaders, and hunters preferring modern firearms will advance on the Northwest Colorado landscape. Over the span of 12 different big-game seasons, the population of our region will swell by thousands. This increase is fueled by one thing — the prospect of a successful hunt.
Deer, elk, and antelope live here in numbers not seen in other parts of the country. Add to that large tracts of public land — both national forest and BLM with reasonable access — and we have a recipe for success that’s hard to match.
Many years of hunting in this part of the country have resulted in my preference for western Moffat County. I spent a few years hunting the Elkhead Range and enjoyed some success. I like an area we call the “Quakie Knob,” about a mile north of Freeman Reservoir. The Bears Ears pack trail borders it on the east side. A person can hike for about three-quarters of a mile from the Freeman Reservoir campground to the northeast and hit the pack trail. Once on the trail, it’s just a short hike north to a saddle formed by Black Mountain to the east and the “Quakie Knob” to the west. The so-called knob is actually a small aspen-covered hill that makes a good landmark. Hike a little farther, a half-mile or so, and the pack trail crosses the south fork of Fortification Creek. Another short distance to the north is the north fork of Fortification Creek. Both of these drainages consistently produce elk.
My favorite area is Cross Mountain west of Maybell. The east side of the mountain, between the Yampa River and Moffat County Road 10, has produced many fine days in the field. I like it because it can be scanned with binoculars well and access is good along the base of the mountain. Cross Mountain is a Wilderness Study Area and the boundary is along its base. Motorized travel is prohibited inside the boundary, but it’s OK to drive the four-wheeler or pickup on the marked BLM trail outside the boundary. I know how tough it can be to get a deer or elk carcass off Cross Mountain, but if a hunter exercises a little restraint and a little care, it’s not too difficult to get a field-dressed animal to a vehicle.
For those with antelope tags, the Great Divide area is where most people prefer to hunt. Great Divide generally describes the western portion of Game Management Unit 3. Again, there’s a lot of public land with good access and the animals are easy to see (binoculars or a spotting scope are important here). I’d suggest heading northwest from Maybell on Colorado Highway 318. When you hit the Snake River, turn right on Moffat County Road 21. Heading northeast along the river, a number of marked BLM trails branch off the county road. Any of those could have the buck you want. The harvest numbers and success rates in GMU 3 are remarkable. Great Divide does see a fair amount of pressure though, and gas and oil exploration is on the increase. Firearm safety, always important, should be emphasized even more.
— Carwile is the sportsman’s information officer for the Craig Chamber of Commerce
Other hot spots
Longtime Northwest Colorado hunter Ned Miller shares a few of his favorite spots across the region:
South Fork of Hog Park Creek (Jackson County)
You can reach South Fork from Columbine, north of Steamboat Lake, turning east on Forest Development Road 550 then east on FDR 500 through Big Red Park across King Solomon Creek and north to the Continental Divide where you come to FDR 499. Keep in mind that everything east of FDR 499 is within the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area boundary, so your hunt would be north and west of 499. Here, the Continental Divide separates GMUs 5 and 161, so again, be on your toes about your boundaries. This area is best during the early rifle seasons.
Wilson Mesa (Rio Blanco County)
This is probably the best-kept secret spot anywhere in Colorado. There is timber, feed, water and privacy with very little hunting pressure as it’s a difficult area to get into, even on foot or horseback. The easiest way in is up to the Morapos Campground then to walk east across both forks of Morapos Creek, then turn north along a fence line that goes up the mountain for a very steep climb. Probably the first time you try this you would want to do it during daylight. You will cross a smaller east-west drainage about halfway up and when you reach the top, you need to start your hunt to the northeast and east along the rim. You will probably want to have owned or rented horses available to pack out your elk. If you pack it out on your back you will need to make six to eight trips or more, and then you might never want to do it again.
Trail Creek (Routt County)
This fantastic spot is a true “ooh and aah” place with heavy timber on the east and west and Trail Creek running north to south down the middle of a long meadow. I’ve had elk walk right through my camp and cross the creek to graze for hours in plain sight. This whole watershed was hurt badly by the Routt Divide Blowdown a few years ago. The jeep road up the west side of the north fork of Elk River was closed because of the downed timber and access to Diamond Park is by Lost Dog Creek Road that now connects to the old jeep road at Trail Creek. As the elevation is over 9,000 feet, you would need to hunt this area during one of the earlier seasons because of heavy snows. I would recommend camping in Diamond Park and hiking or ATVing north for your hunt along the old jeep road.
Find a great nightlife spot to celebrate the end of your hunt.